Danna O’Donnell, Director of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s (RDKB’s) Area D, said Thursday, March 17, she wants to bring rural Grand Forks’ zoning policies in line with recent provincial regulations that make it easier to build secondary homes in the agricultural land reserve (ALR).
Area E Director Vicki Gee supports Victoria’s new stance, but as head of the RDKB’s planning and services committee, said regular zoning applications far outweigh the limited demand for secondary housing in the ALR — especially with development taking off in the West Boundary.
Local governments and First Nations can approve secondary homes within the ALR, the Ministry of Agriculture announced last July. But the changes aren’t reflected in the zoning bylaws or Official Community Plans (OCP’s) O’Donnell said were outdated across the RDKB’s five electoral areas.
“The fact is, we’re in the middle of a housing crisis. And in my personal opinion, when we’re looking at applications between someone who wants to build a garage and someone who needs a secondary home, we need to make secondary homes a priority,” she told The Gazette.
Secondary homes are a boon for ALR food producers, O’Donnell and Gee agreed. The homes can be rented out, topping-up revenues for often cash-strapped farmers, or they can house seasonal farmhands or other family members — especially grandparents.
Both also agreed that the ministry’s new regulations simplify the overly difficult approval process previously handled by the Agricultural Land Commission. And anyone wanting to build a secondary home on their ALR property can file with their local area planning committees for individual zoning amendments.
The directors meanwhile support hiring more planning department staff through provisions in the RDKB’s upcoming budget. But they take different views on staff priorities.
O’Donnell wants to direct staff to update the regional district’s zoning bylaws, a move she said would further ease the building of secondary housing in the ALR. In the meantime, she said hopeful builders should apply directly to the RDKB’s planning department.
But Gee said staff are still bogged down with last year’s development applications from outside the ALR, especially from Big White and Beaverdell. For perspective, Gee said the RDKB took in far more development applications in 2021 than in 2020.
“There are two routes we could take here: One is for us to change all of our zoning bylaws and our OCPs, which would be the long route, given that we don’t have enough resources to do that right now,” Gee said.
Gee’s second approach, which she said was more realistic over the long-term, closely dovetailed O’Donnell’s stop-gap measure: ALR owners can take advantage of the new rules by applying for separate dispensations with the RDKB.
Gee said the RDKB’s board plans to hire another full-time planner, a second bylaw enforcement officer and a half-time support position for that officer.
The RDKB is set to fund those new positions Thursday, March 31, when Gee said area directors hope to pass the regional district’s budget.
Secondary homes built in the ALR are sized in proportion to primary residences. An ALR homeowner living in a 500 square metre house (approximately 5,400 square feet) could build a secondary home of 90 square metres, or roughly 1,000 square feet, according to the ministry.